Down There, Below the Trees

I recently pulled up Google Earth and punched in the address of my childhood home. I have been writing about my years in that house for so long that it has begun to feel like an imagined place. When the image rendered on my computer screen, it was an odd affirmation delivered by technology. The house is still there, but the place that looms so large in my memory seems tiny from space, just a T-shaped structure surrounded by trees. I looked closer and noticed that the century old beech tree I’d named Alice is (miraculously) still there, and her canopy has grown significantly. Zooming out, I could understand how, as a child, it felt like we were alone, deep in the woods, even though there were indeed houses nearby. From 1979 to 1991, this was the land where I wandered the forests and cornfields, named trees, caught toads, raised guinea pigs, and began my long-lived, arduous habit of loneliness and negative thinking.  ashford

My parents lived in that house for 22 years. Since they sold it in 2000, the home has had three different owners, not all of whom have taken good care of the place. Once when I was visiting Ohio, my mom and I drove back to our old neighborhood which is now surrounded by new subdivisions where fields and farms once flourished. We idled up our old driveway and she suggested we turn around and leave. “We’re trespassing,” she said.

“No one’s here,” I said. “Let’s walk around a bit.” We got out of the car. I peered in the windows and a young man opened the door asking, “Can I help you?” Just the sound of that door swishing open brought back a flood of memories so dense I felt disoriented.

He invited us in, showed us around, even asked my mom a few questions about mystery panels on the walls, odd wiring he didn’t understand. She answered him with complete authority; she had meticulously cared for that house for years. He told us that he was making some changes to the house and led us down the hallway to my old bedroom, the flower-wallpapered place I’d hidden, danced, cried, slept and dreamt for thirteen nascent years. He opened the door and showed us that he had recently knocked down the wall between my room and my brother’s room, making one big, open space. The meaning there was not lost on me, and I took a long intake of breath and held it before exhaling. When I told my brother that our rooms were now one, he smiled, said, “Really?” I think we both had a glimmer of hope in that moment that the walls we’d built during our childhood could finally, maybe, start to come down.

Post-Script: I posted this on Facebook and my friend Jack pointed me to this amazing project called The Wilderness Downtown.  Check it out. You always said you wanted your life to have a soundtrack…

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juliebarton

I'm a writer and mom living in Northern California, author of the New York Times Bestselling memoir, Dog Medicine, How My Dog Saved Me From Myself

4 thoughts on “Down There, Below the Trees

  1. I went through that door a lot too. I always thought you’d all live there forever. But we all move on, because life is phases.

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